When interviewing a Jewish-American artist, bringing up a past occasion that took place in Israel is a potential icebreaker. Happily, I just happened to have one to share with classical pianist Navah Perlman.
It occurred at a press conference seven years ago in Tel Aviv. Navah was there to participate in a special concert with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by her father, iconic classical violinist Itzhak Perlman. Recently, I shared with Navah two memories from that event: one, her apology for hardly speaking Hebrew; and two, her quiet and introspective manner, compared to her father’s charismatic and dominant presence.
“Well, that’s true. My Hebrew is terrible,” Navah admits. “And as for what you refer to as ‘my introspective manner,’ I’m actually very comfortable when I’m giving interviews. It’s just that when my dad is in the room, there’s no way to compete with the persona he brings. He takes over. It’s just who he is; so I step aside, metaphorically, and let him go ahead and do his thing.”
It’s a strange coincidence for both Perlmans to share the same stage again – this time at the Mesa Arts Center – a month apart from each other. Itzhak Perlman performed a solo violin concert on Jan. 12; Navah will be performing a solo piano concert called “A Musical Memoir” on Feb. 16.
“It has happened before,” says Navah. “I get to a place to give a concert, just to find out he was there just a short while ago or [will] perform there soon.”
For me, the chance to do a solo piano show is very exciting,” she says. “I’ve played with an orchestra, in duets, as a part of a trio and in a band. Every combination is a different challenge. This upcoming show in Mesa is going to be unique, because I’m doing a MAC talk before the concert [with CMIO Artistic Director Zuill Bailey]. I want to speak a bit during the show and present some photos – make the whole experience more personal for myself and the audience.”
Navah got her start as a soloist with the Greater Miami Youth Symphony in 1984 and studied at Juilliard School in New York, where her father still teaches today. She currently resides in New York with her husband, Robert D. Frost, and four children.
Navah Perlman Q&A
Q: In an interview a few years back, you said that, though you love music deeply, as a mother you have a very clear set of priorities in your life: Your family comes first.
A: When my children were younger, it had to be the case. It still is. My concert in Mesa will take place during the week; then I’m going back to New York because my 10-year-old twins have a special school project for President’s Day and I want to be there for them. It’s more flexible now than it was a few years ago, though, and will be even more so a few years from now. When you have a family, things are different.
It’s just the way it is. For the career I have, alongside being a mother, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my amazing husband, Robert, who has been there for me and shared the chores and burdens through the years. I tell you, I got some massive doses of jealousy vibes from people who have a very narrow [view] of what a mom should and should not do while raising her kids. Truly, I was blessed, because [despite] all the progress in recent years, many women who want to fulfill themselves still face great difficulties. Look what happened at the last [U.S. presidential] election. A candidate who was more qualified professionally than anybody else eventually lost.
Q: Your father, Izhak, comes from a very different and hardcore approach to being a musician. Have you ever discussed this, or even clashed over your different views of music?
A: I’m not really sure that was the case with him. When my father started his career as a young kid in Israel, he had nothing in the material sense. He was driven to succeed not only because of his passion for music, but also his passion to provide everything for his family. He moved to the U.S. because he knew he would have options here that he would not have anywhere else. I was born, shall we say, into comfort. I never experienced that kind of hunger. And yes, there’s also my husband Robert’s job that allows me, alongside my income, to be picky every once in a while. I don’t have to take every job offer, which is a huge privilege for a classical musician.
Q: A lot has been said in past years about the commercialization of the arts, particularly music. Is this something you have experienced personally? Have you ever wanted to play a complex, challenging piece and some artistic director said: “No, our subscription audience will not buy that.”
A: Of course, I’m aware of those changes; but to be honest, I would not like it if people walked out of my concert feeling unsatisfied. Classical musicians travel a lot. We make a living performing and teaching, because our CDs don’t sell that much [laughs]. Perform for many years and you will know which audience can adjust to what. When I play in New York City, I will try pieces I will not play in Los Angeles and vice versa.
Q: You have visited Israel many times. Ever thought what your life – as an artist and as a person – would have been like if you had grown up there?
A: Honestly, I never thought about it that way. Israel for me is, above all, a place where I’m very comfortable just being myself. I feel more at ease there than in a place in the U.S. I hardly know. However, on a practical level, when you live a life of traveling and performing, it matters a great deal where your home is.
Navah Perlman – A Musical Memoir
Thursday, Feb. 16 at 7:30 pm
Mesa Arts Center, One E. Main St., Mesa
Box office: 480-644-6500 or mesaartscenter.com